Lizzie Bennet did not cry easily. Sure, she loved sappy rom-coms and anything with Colin Firth, but even at the saddest and soppiest moments she didn't really tear up. And yes, she had cried on camera for the entire world to see, but those were extenuating circumstances. Feeling like you've failed your sister and indirectly ruined her life? That would bring almost anyone to their knees. It was a bit of a badge of honor, really, to consider herself more logical and practical than emotional. It had made her a successful student and had certainly come in handy these first few months of business.
So, quietly sobbing in one of Catherine de Bourgh's many marble-ridden bathrooms was something of a personal failure.
The general disapproving remarks were something that Lizzie had gotten used to, and since her and Darcy had started dating they had gotten much fewer and farther between. But tonight Caroline had surprised them all with a visit, towing along her senator husband (after a rapid-fire engagement and marriage), showing him off nearly as much as her giant ring.
It wasn't her appearance so much that had set off this cry-fest but rather the bitch-a-thon her and Catherine de Bourgh had descended into. They'd had wine with dinner, and then wine with dessert, and then a bit more wine after they'd 'retired to the drawing room' (yeah, seriously), and it had apparently loosened their lips enough that they had no trouble in pointing out any flaw they saw and then tittering with laughter. It was enough that even Caroline's sneery husband looked uncomfortable and embarrassed.
She'd managed to steer clear of them until Caroline had caught sight of Lizzie rising up to press a quick kiss to Darcy's cheek.
They'd started on her clothes (what designer is that, Lizzie? Don't tell me you got it at the mall. Oh, Jane's design? Is it really? My goodness, it doesn't really seem like her...taste), before moving on to her family, her business, and even her hair.
Her own family teased her on the regular, she didn't take herself too seriously, but there was nothing fond about their words or their drunken laughter. The two of them had never been her favorite, she told herself that she was being too sensitive, but even Darcy was obviously as upset with them. Despite their general aversion to PDA as a couple, he moved from standing at her side to gripping her hand tightly to sliding a protective arm around her waist. He even started to firmly and vocally protest, and kept trying until Lizzie had put a hand on his chest to stop him. There was so sense in starting a fight, especially not with these two.
Darcy was blessedly throwing back his drink, trying to finish it as quickly as possible so they could excuse themselves and duck out, but it wasn't soon enough.
Caroline and de Bourgh had veered into talking about the de Bourgh and Darcy lineages, how rich and influential and important they were, blah blah blah. Lizzie had almost thought that they might be moving on from criticizing her, and welcomed a change of topic. But no such luck.
"My sister used to tell me all of the dreams she had for little William's future! We used to say that we would get him married to a Vanderbilt! She would be so disappointed."
It was such a ridiculous comment, it left her speechless. It sounded like a snobbish remark made by the high-school villain in a bad YA novel. Lizzie knew that de Bourgh was more than a little tipsy, she knew that both her and Caroline were bitter and snobbish, but that comment had felt like a knife to the gut. She had mumbled an excuse and slipped away as quickly as possible, managing to find a bathroom in the labyrinth of a house. She had told herself she was angry, that she just needed a few soothing breaths to help her bite her tongue, but instead she had taken a seat on the edge of the bathtub and burst into tears.
She wasn't even sure how long she sat there, but it seemed like an age before the tears even started to slow down. At least silent crying was better than hysterical sobs, right?
A knock on the door startled her out of her misery, enough to stumble up from the bath and stutter, "O-occupied!"
"Lizzie? It's me, open up." Gigi's sympathetic voice floated through the door, and Lizzie felt herself tear up again. God, the only thing more embarrassing than sobbing your eyes out was having a witness to it all. Especially kind, understanding, perfectly put-together Gigi. She didn't want a girl like that seeing her smeared mascara and running nose.
"I'll be out in a minute!"
Another knock. "Lizzie, please open the door."
She sighed, wiping away as much of her running makeup as she could before unlocking the door. It opened just a crack and then Gigi was slipping inside, closing it and locking it behind her. "I'm so sorry, Lizzie. I'm so embarrassed! Aunt Catherine is...well, she's always been a snob, but that was just vicious! Alcohol and Caroline apparently bring out the worst in her."
"Alcohol, Caroline, and me, apparently," Lizzie hiccupped. She could hear Jane's voice in her head. Sarcasm and jokes don't count as coping with your problems, Lizzie.
Gigi dug through the drawers until she found a near-empty box of tissues. Better than nothing. She handed them to Lizzie, motioning for her to sit and then sitting down beside her. "I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault," Lizzie assured with a sniffle. "I should be used to this. It's not like she's the only one who thinks your brother is too good for me. I thought I was prepared for this. I guess I just didn't expect anyone to say it right to my face."
"Aunt Catherine talks like we're Kennedys," Gigi scoffed. "This isn't upper-class English society, nobody who matters cares about William's love life as long as he's happy. And we've never seen him this happy. And Caroline..." She sighed, handing her another tissue. "Caroline likes to act like she's the heiress to a dynasty. Her father is a Wall-Street wolf and her mother's a corporate lawyer. They make phenomenal money, yes, but they're...new money. Not that I'm being a snob about it, really, I'm just saying it's not like her family's got wealth going generations back and have always thought they're better than everybody else. I mean, obviously not, you've met Bing."
"Well it clearly matters to them," Lizzie pointed out. "And if it matters to them, it must matter to someone else. I thought the biggest hurtle to me and Will getting together was me and Will. And now we are together and it's sort of hitting me that it's...it's more complicated than that. My mother's just thrilled that I'm in a long-term relationship with anyone, it never really occurred to me that other families have higher standards for their kids."
Gigi frowned. "It isn't more complicated than that! Please don't say that. Besides, you shouldn't care what they think."
"Shouldn't I?" she asked. "Much easier said than done. Caroline's, what, second generation rich and she still feels like she can pass judgement on me? That leaves the entirety of the Darcys' social circle that also look at your brother as a laughingstock for lowering himself to date me."
"Stop it," Gigi scolded. "Bing isn't marrying an oil tycoon's daughter, he's with someone he loves, too. Caroline is the oddity in this situation, not him."
"I don't know that she is. Is this what the rest of our relationship is going to be like? Me trying to keep it together while people hurl insults at me?"
Gigi wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "Of course not. Of course not!"
"But Gigi," Lizzie sniffled, crushing the last tissue in the palm of her hand. "What kind of future can we possibly have together?"
Any attempts she might have made to respond were cut off by another knock on the door. "Lizzie?" Darcy called quietly, and she winced. Great. A pity party in the bathroom, all for her.
Gigi looked worried but didn't respond further, just squeezed her shoulder and rose to let him in. Lizzie caught Gigi flashing Will a panicked look on her way out. Unable to face him, Lizzie stood, busying herself with cleaning up the tissues and washing her hands. Darcy stood and watched her, apparently a bit unsure himself.
"Lizzie," he said finally, catching her arm as she turned to unnecessarily refold the hand towel she had used. "Lizzie, stop. Talk to me."
"What is there to say?"
"Tell me you're alright," he pleaded. "Aunt Catherine and Caroline...they were cruel and bitter and horrid. I cannot apologize enough for their behavior."
She sighed, feeling the stupid tears build in her eyes again. God, she hated this. "They feel the way they feel, there's nothing to apologize for."
He exhaled sharply, frustrated. "Of course there is. They have no right to judge you. Anything about you. They don't matter."
Lizzie crossed her arms and leaned back against the counter, staring down pointedly at her feet. "Of course they do. Of course they matter."
Darcy moved to stand in front of her, hands closing gently around her arms. "Please stop. Nothing they said is true."
"Isn't it? You yourself pointed out to me time and time again when we first met that I was too unaccomplished for you, that you somehow had come to like me despite my inferior family and that associating with me went against the wishes of your own."
That shut him up, at least for a moment. The tears had started again, but the fuming anger that had settled over her made them easier to keep in check.
"I..." he stuttered, "I didn't-"
"Social classes are a real thing," she quoted to him, "people who think otherwise live in a fantasy world." Maybe it was a bit harsh to throw his own words back in his face, especially when his first confession was not either one of their finer moments, but she couldn't help it. He had said it. As much as Gigi tried to brush off de Bourgh's comments as relics from a earlier time, Caroline and even Darcy had clearly inherited the thought process.
His hands fell from her arms, but he didn't move away. He still loomed over her, head tilted down towards the floor. "I have...I have come to learn that caring about social class is the hobby of the unhappy."
"You can't sustain a life on chasing happiness all of the time, it isn't realistic," she said, unable to help the cynicism from creeping in. She was starting to sound like the ever-sensible Charlotte.
"And you think I prefer my aunt's way of doing things? Chasing social standing and wealth and connections? What would that get me?"
She snorted. "Um, the respect and acceptance of your family and your peers?"
"Gigi loves you like the sister she's never had. Bing is even more complimentary of you than he is of everyone else. Fitz adores you."
"That doesn't change the fact that the people you grew up with, your parents' friends, your extended family are judging you and turning their noses down at you for being with me. I've always thought I didn't care what people think about me, but this is a whole other level. This is your life." She started to sniffle again, wiping at her cheeks. "What kind of future can we possibly have, Will? I just...I don't think I can do this. Maybe we should just-"
That seemed to startle him. He stepped even closer, grabbing her arms and shaking her once, gently but enough to get her attention. "Don't. Lizzie, please don't do this."
"Don't. Please. When we first met...I was raised to be proud of my family legacy and somewhere along the way it turned into conceit. I spent those months after you rejected me trying to become the man I wanted to be. The man that you would want. After George Wickham, I was paranoid. I thought the only way to protect myself from others taking advantage of me for my wealth was to seek someone out who was a financial equal. I saw greed in Jane because I was looking for it, not because I thought lesser of her for her financial status. I encouraged Bing to break it off because I didn't want him to end up as devastated as Gigi. Please, Lizzie. I love you. I can't lose you. Please don't let the words of those two unhappy, self-absorbed people ruin this. I couldn't bear it. Please."
She let out a sob and then flung her arms around his neck, feeling a swell of relief when his own arms circled her back, clinging onto her. Had she really been about to break up with Darcy because of the comments of two women she didn't even like? God, she had almost ruined this. The best thing that ever happened to her, and she had nearly thrown herself on her sword for two idiots who couldn't care less about her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, stroking the hair at the nape of his neck as he pressed his face into her shoulder. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean...You're not going to lose me, this is just something that I'm going to have to deal with. Something I wasn't really prepared for."
The tears have started again (but really, had they ever stopped?) and Darcy pulled away enough to produce a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and hand it to her. As she was wiping her face, he wrapped his arms around her waist and hoisted her up to sit on the marble countertop, moving himself between her legs to kiss a red and blotchy cheek.
"You have started your own business from the ground up, with no one's money but the people who trusted you and your pitch enough to invest. No trust funds, no inheritance. No one who would judge you for your lack of family connections could say they've been that brave. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed by you, I'm immensely proud, please believe me."
She sniffled again, though now it was from him being so damn sweet. Ugh, she was a wreck.
"It's alright to be a little embarrassed about my family. My mother embarrasses me on a semi-regular basis," she tried to joke, trying to blot under her eyes to avoid smearing makeup all over her face, though she doubted she was being successful.
"Your mother, after I'd given her every reason to hate me, gave me a hug and sent me home with an ungodly amount of casserole after my first dinner with your family." Lizzie giggled at the memory. "I can't remember the last time I received a hug from an elder. Probably my parents, before they died. Aunt Catherine patted my shoulder at their funeral, that was the most physical contact we've had, besides a mandatory kiss on the cheek when we visit."
Her heart ached for him. It explained a lot, at the beginning of their relationship. He was almost touch-starved, constantly resting his palm on her back, reaching for her hand, brushing her hair from her face. After a lifetime of perpetual singledom, it had taken her a long time to adjust to spending the night with Darcy, who always wanted to spoon or hold her as they fell asleep.
"That bitch. She probably doesn't even know what a casserole is."
That earned her a laugh and a soft kiss. "My point is that I have felt more welcomed and accepted by your family than the type of people my aunt would deem appropriate for me to associate with, and they're my own blood. So please don't concern yourself with their lack of warmth."
"But she's awfully warm to Gigi," Lizzie pointed out. "And Caroline. Caroline can do no wrong."
"Gigi doesn't travel much for work, which means she rarely passes through Aunt Catherine's home base. Most of her information on Gigi comes from me, and I am selective on the information I share. And Caroline...Caroline is with a shallow man in a shallow marriage made unhappy by her husband's decline in political popularity. If that is the type of relationship my aunt approves of, then I am grateful everyday for her dislike of you. I shudder to think that the man I was two years ago might have pressured Gigi into the same misery because I had stuffy ideals about family money."
"Gigi knows that you love her and want what's best for her," Lizzie assured.
"She was afraid to tell me that she didn't want to go to grad school. Truly frightened about what my reaction would be. It was telling. I don't believe that my relationship with Gigi would be nearly as strong if it weren't for you. Nor my relationship with Bing. What if he had discovered the videos after Jane had found someone else? He would have resented me for my meddling."
Lizzie smiled. "Bing isn't capable of resentment. And I think you give me too much credit."
"I'm a better man for being with you. I can't promise that this will always be easy, people can always be judgmental and snobbish. But I have chosen to surround myself with people whose opinions I actually care about."
"I know you have. Thank God."
He smiled softly, leaning close as she rested her forehead against his shoulder, his hand running comfortably up and down her back. "I seem to recall your mother making pointed comments about your own life-choices in your videos. She didn't always approve. She was well-intentioned but misguided. People like my Aunt Catherine are the same, they just lack the same kindness and tact your mother shows you."
"Tact?" she laughed. "That's the first time anyone has applied that trait to my mother."
"Well nevertheless, you can roll your eyes and dismiss their comments as much as you did hers. You knew what was best for you, and I know what's best for me. You're it. And I won't be persuaded otherwise any more than you were."
"My mother and your aunt might both have old-fashioned values, but de Bourgh's comments were downright...vicious."
"I know," he said turning to press his nose into her hair. "And I'm sorry. I cannot pretend that what they say will never be hurtful, but despite their cruelty, they're still nothing more than silly comments from a ridiculous woman with outdated values."
"That sounds like my mother," she grinned.
Lizzie pulled him into a kiss, hands sliding from his chest to his back to draw him closer. His hands were steadied on the countertop behind her, but they slowly slid up her sides, one hand straying to her chest and the other to the back of her neck. She was breathless.
All of that pent-up emotion came pouring out, her self-consciousness and desperation, his fears about her reaction, and she finally relaxed, eagerly returning and deepening the kiss. For all that she had criticized him for acting like a emotionless robot, she had been quick to realize how wrong she was once they started dating. She could read him like a book, now. That intense, unsettling glare was still a look she received from him, though she now knew that it wasn't a look of hatred but one that would lead them to end the night in the bedroom. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option just now.
"Mmf! Not here..."
"Not here..." he agreed, swallowing thickly and shifting uncomfortably. She smiled, kissing him chastely again before leaning her back against the cool mirror behind her.
"Lizzie, I know I'm not...I'm not very eloquent when it comes to speaking, but please tell me that you're at least somewhat reassured. That I've convinced you that my judgmental relatives aren't a good reason to end this."
"We're not ending anything," she promised. "You're right. My mother was obsessed with pawning her daughters off on rich, single men. You've learned not to assume that I share the same values as my family, I need to trust that you don't share the same values as yours."
He nodded. "I love you, Lizzie Bennet."
"I love you. I'd love you if you didn't have a penny to your name. Honestly, I'd kind of prefer it. But nobody's perfect."
The joke is ignored as Darcy leaned in to kiss her again, whispering, just barely audible. "Don't ever leave me."
Another knock on the door made them both jump, and Darcy sprang away as though someone was going to come bursting in and see them with their tongues down each others' throats.
"William?" Gigi called. "Lizzie? Is everything okay in there?"
He went to step towards the door when Lizzie caught his arm.
"Wait. That...comment that your aunt made. Your mother..."
"My mother's dreams about marrying me off to a Vanderbilt isn't any different than your own mother's fantasies about marrying you off to a rich man. Hardly something to plan your life around."
She laughed despite herself. "I guess not. But my mother was the only one that got her way." It took a second to replay the words in her head, but when she caught up she started stuttering. "Not that...I mean, besides the marriage part, I'm not assuming-"
"Someday," he said simply, kissing her forehead.
She let him go, sliding off the counter as he let Gigi slip into the bathroom.
"Everything okay?" Gigi looked between them nervously, looking like she might start wringing her hands.
Lizzie smiled. "Yeah. I'm sorry I worried you, I was just...it's been a rough night. Will just had to talk me down from a ledge. Literally, I was ready to jump out of a window just to get out of here."
"Agreed. I say we go back downstairs, say our goodbyes, and go get a hotel ASAP."
"I can't go back down there, I look like a disaster. If they didn't like the way I looked before, they'll tear me to shreds before I make it to the front door," she sighed. "Is there any ivy on the side of this house that I could climb down? Maybe a well-placed drain spout?"
Gig was already opening up her clutch, dumping its contents onto the counter. A small hair comb, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, powder... Lizzie was lucky to find chapstick amongst the loose receipts in her own bag. Gigi looked over her shoulder at Darcy. "Give us five minutes. Start the exit strategy. Looking at your watch, yawning, that sort of thing. I think if we plan this right, we can be out the door in ten minutes."
She got a letter of apology a week later. Typed and sent with a business' pre-paid stamped envelope. Not exactly the wax-sealed, handwritten, and hand-delivered note she had once received from the woman's nephew.
He had come to her apartment, poured two glasses of wine, and then stopped mid-sentence when he saw the envelope on the table. "Aunt Catherine?"
"Yup," she replied, reaching out for the glass.
Darcy waited until he was settled on the recliner, her nestled into his side and his arm around her shoulder before asking. "Anything you would like to share about it?"
"You can read it if you want," she said. "It was basically just her saying that she'd had too much to drink and that she was sorry if her comments offended me. And that she and Caroline are just such good pals that they got carried away. I'm summarizing, but that was basically the gist."
He frowned. "Not much of an apology."
"Not in the least. But the fact that she even sent one at all, I think, is a very good sign. If she thought I was going to be gone and out of your life in a month, she wouldn't have bothered. She's proud, and apologies aren't easy. Any admission that she's wrong would have been difficult. The fact that she wrote any sort of letter must mean she knows I'm going to be around for a while, and she doesn't want her relationship with you to suffer. And if she thinks insulting me will hurt her relationship with you, she obviously knows that you're serious about me and won't let her walk all over me. Honestly, I think it's a really good sign."
He kissed the top of her head. "You've thought a lot about this."
"Well, once the initial eye-rolling subsided, I had some time to think it through."
"It's a very positive and optimistic interpretation."
"Yeah, well, Jane is finally rubbing off on me. It only took twenty-six years." She paused. "Wait, does that mean you think I'm wrong?"
"Not at all," he assured. "I think you're entirely correct. And as much as she looks down on people whom she sees as inferior, you behaved perfectly civilly and treated her far better than she deserved. Her half-baked apology only further elevates your good manners and generosity."
"Mm. Now I think you're being a bit positive and optimistic about me."
"What is a partner for, if not that?"
Lizzie laughed, leaning her head on his shoulder and snuggling in closer. Darcy had been dropping hints for months for her to move in with him, and she had dragged her feet. As much as she wanted to believe that financials didn't matter in their relationship, they did. She wanted to be independent, to live alone, to pay her way, not just rely on Darcy and his money. But just as much as she didn't want to feel punished in their relationship for her lack of wealth, she also knew he didn't deserve to be punished for his wealth, either. She was tired of money being such a burden in their relationship.
"I hope you know how much I appreciate you coming all the way out here after work. I know it's way out of your way."
He hummed in response, thumb stroking her shoulder blade. "I don't mind. Though I would be particularly happy if you moved closer."
"Careful what you wish for. My lease is up soon, I've been thinking about moving."
That peaked his interest. "Have you?"
"I've already looked at a few places. Anything central is unbelievably expensive, but if I get a roommate..."
"Lizzie," he interrupted, his business-man voice taking over. "It's unreasonable for you to go through the process of finding a place and a roommate when you already have an option. It's much closer to your office, to everything, really, and we practically spend all of our spare time together, anyway. Please consider it. Besides, I own the apartment, so you wouldn't have to worry about rent-"
"I would pay you rent," she replied, holding up a hand when he tried to protest. "If you won't let me do that, at least utilities, groceries... I don't want to be a kept woman, Will, I want to feel like I'm contributing."
Instead of arguing, he nodded. "Of course. I do understand. Splitting the expenses is fair, and beneficial to both of us, actually. Especially with how often Gigi comes over and raids the fridge."
She laughed. "Ah, I see. This moving-in thing is all a ploy to help fund your sister's snacking habit."
"And a clever plan it is, too." He smiled back at her, eager and hopeful. Lizzie had been right. She had been angry at his aunt for being so obsessed with money that the woman was willing to let it affect her relationships, but Lizzie had done the same. Despite being desperately in love with Darcy, she had almost broken it off by letting de Bourgh and Caroline give her an inferiority complex about her finances, and had signed another six-month lease despite Darcy's expressed desire to start living together. But that lease was up in two months, and she refused to let this continue to be a problem. "So, does this mean you'll move in? Or at least consider it?"
"Yes," she agreed, setting aside her wine glass and turning in place so she faced him. Lizzie wrapped an arm around his waist and tilted her head up, letting him close the gap between them. Again and again. "If you want me there, I'm all yours."